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Syrian Conundrum: will the Arab Spring blossom in Syria?

Russia and China are supportive of Assad’s regime. It can be said that they are not as intolerant against the regime as the Western powers are.

The United Nations Security Council failed to support the resolution that was under chapter VII of the charter, against Syria. The resolution was tabled jointly by the United Kingdom and the United States ‘the two powers which claim to champion the cause of human rights and democracy. The resolution was doubly vetoed by Russia and China whereas two non-permanent members’ Pakistan and South Africa’ abstained from voting.

This was third such attempt to activate the Security Council to clamp tougher sanctions on Syria and to create an opening for the military action akin to that of Libya. However, the movers of the resolution failed to persuade Russia and China to use their right to veto the ‘substantive matter’ under Article 27(3) of the Charter. This has generated a mix response among the international community in which the voices in favour of the vetoed resolution are more resonant, clear and determined. The White House has termed the veto as ‘highly regrettable’ and ‘highly unfortunate’.

By now we are well aware of the events that triggered eruption, evolution and blossoming of Arab Spring in Tunisia and from thereon to the entire northern Africa, and Yemen and Syria in the Middle East. Mostly the authoritarian regimes or the dynasties in those countries created and fuelled the disenchantment among the general populace especially the youth. Resultantly, the pent-up anger and deprivation was erupted in the form of revolution later coined as Arab Spring.  The snowball effect took the neighbouring countries like Libya and Egypt by storm.

But this was not all. Where the revolution gave birth to new hopes of adopting democratic ideals, it also created opportunities for the global powers to direct and mould the new developments to as per their own interests. Accordingly, the powers had mobilised their resources and directed their attention to take optimum results from the Arab Spring. What was not achieved by diplomatic finesse was achieved by combining it with force. Libya was the first example when the Resolution 1973 (2011) was construed as the green signal from the UN to oust Qaddafi. At that time Russia and China abstained and Germany, India and Brazil followed the suite. Syria became the next test case. Russia and China, which disagreed with the follow-up action of the US and the NATO on Libya, pursuant to Resolution 1973, are opposing another similar action on Syria’ an ally.

It may also be kept in mind that the peace plan of Mr. Kofi Annan, that enjoyed the backing of the Arab League and the UN, has also failed to deliver so far. Launched in February this year, the 6-point peace plan was aimed at ending violence and initiating a political dialogue to create a win-set for all the stake-holders. However, the plan has not delivered any concrete results and the mandate of UNSMIS (United States Supervision Mission in Syria) expired on July 20. However, an extension of another 30 days has been granted to the Mission.

The 16-months-old conflict in Syria is turning violent and bloody as the clock ticks. President Assad’s regime has no qualms in smashing the rebels (or revolutionaries) in cold blood which he claims are getting supply of arms and funds from the West. By vetoing the resolution, President Assad has been given more time to effectively quash the rebels.

In order to understand the Syrian conundrum, the interests of the stakeholders are taken into account. The West of course is on the same page because by de-seating Assad’s regime they are hopeful to install a set-up that can be influenced to serve their national interests. Moreover, this line of action is parallel to their stated support to democratic ideals.

Russia and China, on the other hand, are supportive of Assad’s regime rather it can be said that they are not as intolerant against the regime as the Western powers are. What explains the veto is not just Russia’s and China’s opposition to the use of military force to unseat the Assad regime, something which would have required another Security Council resolution in any event. They also are uneasy with anything that legitimises international involvement in what they see as the domestic affairs of countries. Both the Russian and Chinese governments fear precedents that could be turned against them. By contrast, the United States and many others believe outsiders have a responsibility to act if governments mistreat their citizens.

In order to understand the Syrian conundrum, the interests of the stakeholders are taken into account. The West of course is on the same page because by de-seating Assad’s regime they are hopeful to install a set-up that can be influenced to serve their national interests.
In the same vein, Dimitri Simes, president and CEO, Center for the National Interest while giving interview to the CFR said when asked ‘Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has indicated that Russia is not going to change its position about sanctions. Why is Moscow so supportive of the regime of Bashar al-Assad?’

I don’t think they’re that supportive of the Damascus regime. A better way to put it is that they’re not as opposed to the Damascus regime as the Obama administration and many other governments’.  Assad is (no more) a Moscow client. He certainly was not taking guidance from Moscow. He also for a number of months has stopped paying his bills, so he’s not a reliable customer. He also is an embarrassment in terms of Russian relations, not only with the United States, but with most Arab countries and with Israel, a country economically more important to Russia than Syria.

He further elaborated how the actions of the US and the West have been perceived in Moscow when he said:

In Russia there is ‘conviction that Russia was not treated sufficiently as a great power by the United States, and that the United States was more committed to changes around Russia, [such as] bringing former Soviet republics and allies into NATO or the European Union, than in having a constructive relationship with Russia.

In the end, the continuous interplay of the diplomatic tactics and the interests of the stakeholder at the international chessboard, it cannot be said that the crisis are going to end any time soon. The US and its allies have started looking for ways to circumvent the UN. We might see an action akin to what happened in Iraq

or at least in Bosnia. The Russians will criticize it but it is almost ruled out that they will oppose it militarily. Moreover, the blockers of the resolution are also calculating the future prospects because they obviously do not want to be seen as the last ones holding the ground or supporting the Bashar ul Assad when its ‘all over’ or at least ‘almost over’.
By: Mian Waleed Farooq

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